West Bath overwhelmingly approves exit from RSU 1

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

WEST BATH — By a margin of nearly 5-1 Tuesday, West Bath voters approved withdrawal from Regional School Unit 1, which the town helped form in 2008.

Residents voted 468-97 in favor of leaving the district, the town reported.

Not only was a majority needed for the vote to succeed, it also required enough people to vote, and just barely exceeded that threshold.

A minimum voter turnout of 50 percent of the total ballots cast in the gubernatorial election last November – 560 votes – was necessary for the referendum to be valid; 565 votes were cast, Selectman Peter Oceretko said. The withdrawal initiative’s success required a simple majority of votes: 50 percent plus one.

“I’m glad it’s over with; I’m glad we got our voter threshold,” Oceretko, co-chairman of the town’s Withdrawal Committee, said Tuesday night. “… I’m glad that we’re withdrawing, but actually the hard work starts tomorrow. So we’re still looking at about three months’ worth of a lot of work.”

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said the withdrawal process was difficult, but it was conducted in a professional and courteous manner.

“RSU 1 has enjoyed working with the staff, students and parents affiliated with the West Bath School, and we will miss this educational partnership,” Manuel said in an email Tuesday night. “In addition, the RSU would like to thank West Bath community members for their support and involvement over the last seven years.

“We wish the West Bath School and the town of West Bath all the best in the future as they form their new school administrative unit,” Manuel added.

Tim Harkins, chairman of the RSU 1 Board of Directors, expressed disappointment in the vote.

“I feel that RSU 1 has served the children of West Bath very well and we have been good stewards of that facility,” Harkins said Wednesday. “Based upon the outcome of the vote, the residents of West Bath do not share my sentiments.

“I will miss working with (West Bath School Principal) Emily Thompson and her staff – they have been a great asset to our team,” Harkins added. “The collaboration with Emily and her staff has been invaluable. I hope that the citizens of West Bath will show Emily and her staff the support they need with the same fervor they showed in getting out the vote.”

A three-member transition committee will now be formed. The panel will plan new school administration, develop a budget and schedule a special election to establish a new school board.

West Bath’s final day in RSU 1 will be June 30. Students from the town can continue to attend their own school, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade. For the first year following withdrawal, West Bath students will be able to attend the RSU 1 school they would have gone to if the town were still in the district.

After that, students from West Bath “may choose to attend any middle or secondary school that suits their educational goals or desires at which they are accepted,” according to the withdrawal agreement, which the state approved in December.

RSU 1 has agreed to accept middle and high school pupils from West Bath as tuition students for 10 years after withdrawal. At that point, in 2025, a new agreement would have to be negotiated, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel has said.

Tuition to RSU 1 is determined each year by a state-set formula.

The Withdrawal Committee had Planning Decisions, a Portland-based firm, determine the possible impact seceding from RSU 1 would have on West Bath’s budget, without changes in how the town’s elementary school operates. The town could save about $398,000, cutting its education budget by 14 percent, the committee estimated.

West Bath voted 185-64 in January 2014 to initiate the process of withdrawing from RSU 1, which the town established with Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich.

West Bath sued RSU 1 and member city Bath in 2012 to recover $1.9 million the town believed it overpaid in the first four years of the school district’s existence. The case was settled last month after the Bath City Council approved paying West Bath $1.2 million.

The insurance carrier for RSU 1 also agreed to pay West Bath $50,000.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.